Saturday, June 5, 2010

Adult ego state strengthening - Part 4 **

The final part of this composition on strengthening the Adult ego state seeks a different path.

The previous three parts are examining behavioural strategies to assist a person to increase their Adult ego state functioning when under stress. This section will look at some of the underlying causes that may lead to poor Adult ego state function.

Modelling. All children model on their parents. If the parents display defective Adult then children will model that to varying degrees. If the child has a particularly strong attachment to a parent who has poor Adult then the modelling can be quite strong and the child will pick up the same traits. This on its own is usually not that hard to treat as it involves simply adding to their Parent ego state tapes.

As this diagram shows the Parent ego state is merely a collection of tapes that have been modelled from various parent type figures. In adulthood it is continually being added to and one can seek out those who seem to have strong Adult function and model off them. Thus creating a new tape that has modelling for a well functioning Adult ego state.

Exercises can be done where the counsellor assists the person to identify their main Parent ego state tapes and draws them as in the diagram above. This allows the person to be aware and then start to make choices about which ones to listen to and which ones to turn the volume down. Which one to practice and so forth. The more they are practised the more robust that tape will become.

Injunctions. Sometimes parents for their own unconscious reasons will send a “Don’t think” message to a child. This type of message to the child can be particularly powerful if combined with consistent modelling.

Historically this has occurred in the sex role scripting of children. Boys were told they were practical problem solvers who would think problems through. Girls were told. “Not to worry their little heads about such things” and they didn’t really need an education because they were going to become just mothers and home makers. They did not need strong logical problem solving skills when the men could do it for them. Hence the woman ended up not being able to change the tire on a car or drill a hole into the wall to hang a picture.

Thus we ended up with a way of influencing the dynamics of the relationship between men and women particularly in relation to the power structure. This is why in the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, women becoming more educated became a central aspect of that societal change. Those with strong Adult functioning are going to be the ones who are in charge in relationships and politically powerful.

If mother or father have such power issues of their own then they can script a child to be a certain way in relation to their Adult ego state strength. If mother thinks that women should be dependent on men then she may deliver such a “Don’t think” message to her daughter and the girl’s Adult ego state functioning will suffer.

In other cases a father may be insecure in himself and thus becomes competitive with his son. The father’s own Child ego state may be scared that his son will become more successful than he is and thus he can also unconsciously tell the son, “Don’t think” in a whole variety of ways.

An example of this is stroking patterns. One can ask the question, “Did my parents give me positive strokes for good thinking and problem solving? Did they give me negative strokes for thinking or did they give no strokes at all?” This is illustrated in two main ways.

How highly did the parents value education? Was it important for their children to get a good education and go as far as they can or was education derided or simply ignored.

Second, when the child showed mother and father their report card how did the parents respond? If the child got a high mark what was the attitude and comments - were there positive strokes, negative strokes or no strokes at all? Similarly what was the stroking pattern the child received when he got a low mark on his report card.

Positive strokes for good thinking?

Finally some parents in their parenting style will put down the child or vent their anger at the child by denigrating it. This can occur in many areas such as the child's physical appearance, its sporting prowess, its social skills, musical ability and so forth. It can also be at its academic ability or thinking ability. Some parents will directly tell a child that it is stupid or a moron. A boy who is trying to repair his push bike may be simply pushed aside by father who indicates that he is obviously too stupid to be able to make such repairs and does it himself.

Another way the Adult ego state can underdeveloped is due to what has historically been called maternal over protection. In Transactional Analysis terms the mother (or father) does not allow the child develop out of the symbiosis it formed at a very young age with mother. A new born has no Parent or Adult ego states and thus it has to form a symbiosis with mother and ‘use’ hers until it develops its own.

In some cases the mother or father will not permit the youngster to develop their own Parent and Adult ego states. They can do this in a variety of ways.

1. Restriction of the child’s social world. The child is encouraged not to develop friends and out of family contacts. The child may be kept from going to school because he often gets ‘sick’. Indeed when a child develops a school phobia (and refuses to go to school) often that is due to emotional manoeuvring by the mother in the back ground who does not want the child to go.

2. Excessive contact. This can be continuous companionship of mother and child, prolonged nursing care, excessive fondling, prolonged breast feeding, sleeping with mother long past infancy. Highlighting of a special connection or relationship between child and parent. This can even be mildly romanticised and thus one has the development of the oedipus complex and the electra complex.

3. Infantilization. The parent treats the child in the same manner it would a much younger child. This can be in feeding, dressing, bathing, washing, punishing. The mother may dress a 13 year old son or punish him by putting him to bed in the afternoon.

4. Maternal control. This can manifest as either overdomination or overindulgence of the child by mother.

All of these pressure the child to stay childlike and not develop a competent Adult ego state. If a child cannot think for itself then it has to continue to rely on mother to think for it. Thus we have another reason why as an adult a person may find it difficult to stay in their Adult ego state and require Adult ego state strengthening exercises.



  1. All these over parenting examples sound like every parent i've ever known. So... you must be talking about extremes?

    I can't remember dressing my sons at the age of 13. Unless they were going to fancy dress and needed me to do up their tie or something like that. No... ur right. I don't remember them coming into bed at such an old age either. But I do remember sending them to their rooms at that age. But not to sleep, unless they'd been up all night the night before.

    Tony, parenting is a bit of a tough call. I don't think anyone KNOWS what's best for each individual child.


  2. Yes Roses,

    Parenting is a difficult task, but one needs to keep it in perspective. If you treat the child with respect and give it lots of positive strokes (love) then things are going to be fairly right. the rest is just fine tuning.

    If your children did not have too much trouble 'leaving home' then you have not over protected them Roses.



  3. One - 28 years old, is still here - in a flat next door to us. The other 30 this year, bought a house in the next street from us.

    What do you mean my "leaving home"?

  4. "But its more about them having their own life and new 'family' so to speak that goes beyond their biological parents."

    Yes... that clarifies that then. But I hope they never truly grow up and become absolute adults. I want them to enjoy life not just exist in it.


    What did you have to hypnotize the opposite sexs for? HANG ON! I am the opposite sex!

    Have you hypnotized me????

    Have you?

    I think i'm in shock - Tony! Oh my goodness!!

  5. Well I can't really say Roses as that is part of the hypnotic suggestion


  6. *Gasp*!!

    You are too cheeky for your (and everyone else's for that matter) own good!

    I demand disclosure Mr Graffiti!

  7. What do you mean? I'm allowed to demand disclosure!

    Aren't I?

  8. You are demanding Roses aren't you?


  9. You are SOOOOO cheeky Mr Graff! Yeah - i can demand anything I like any time, any where... doesn't mean i'll get it though, does it.

    Look at you, sitting there with that rye grin...

  10. Well it seems to me Roses that you are quite hypnotically suggestible.

    Which is a good thing I may add.

    Demanding is good.


  11. Yeah yeah. I've never been hypnotized before (well, that i'm aware of) and I don't think you could hypnotize me, even if you gave it your best shot. Some people can't be you know?

    By the way... what are the asterix's on the post labels mean?

  12. Tony,

    what can I do as family therapist in situation where child gets constantly nagging - "you are irresponsible" from parents, and they do not respond adequately to my council not to do that. What approach I need to take to them?


  13. Mirko, since I am not a therapist nor even a psychologist, then I guess I am allowed more than Tony, who is expected to be more responsible than to give advice over the Internet.
    I am also interested what Tony thinks of my way.

    I would - in the absence of the child - attack the parents by like nervously and kind of hostily telling them that they are irresponsible parents and will get nowhere with such behavior. Then in a second I would explain that "guys you probably felt invalidated and frightened by what I just said, and this is how your kid feels about your nagging. Go and read some short book like 'Nasty People' by Jay Carter so you can see the situation of invalidating from outside."

    But if they are uneducated and unwilling to cooperate - it can't be done much I'm afraid.

    Also, much depends on the age of the child - the older s/he is the easier s/he can acquire some defensive techniques no matter what their parents are like.

  14. I'm in the same catagory as Zbig; not a therapist in any way.

    I wish you could play the adult game with the parents. Nagging parents always sound like whinging kids to me. They want their own way.

    As a parent, when ever i whinge or nag, it's because i'm complaining that i'm not getting my way... tantrum of a sorts.

    Nagging... is that a C thing or a P thing Tony?

    It could be both in my understanding of it all.

    What say you Mr Graffiti Sir?

  15. I am kind of therapist, but very beginner one :)

    I like your proposal Zbig, but it is a bit dangerous, don't you think? Maybe to inform one parent about intervention and apply it on other?

  16. yeah it's dangerous, it also depends if you're employed by the state or by them (then you might be more sensitive about not offending them).
    a lighter version of what I proposed would be not "attacking" yourself but using help, like "dear parents, I described your case to Professor X who is a national authority regarding child bearing and he agreed to take a look at it" and then your colleague comes in, in a suit and tie, all this respect and authority atmosphere. And he begins "what kind of irresponsible parents you are? what the hell do you think you're doing?" ;) and before they know, you both explain your trick.

    But anyway I am curious what Tony thinks of it, backed by his years of practice.

  17. Hello Mirko, Zbig and Roses,

    There are some good ideas you have presented and I agree with most of them.

    The question of are they uninformed or unwilling is most relevant. It could be a lack of information. If this is the case then I would probably explain the ego states to them and the transactions that are occurring. Nagging would usually be a Critical Parent to Child transaction and whining or whinging would usually be a Child to Parent transaction. Neither of these will be productive in the long term in altering a child’s behaviour.

    One could also do a role play and I would take a bit of time to set that up. Mother and father would take turns in being the parent and the child. The parent person would start nagging the other and then the child person responds to that. Then switch over and do it the other way around. This would allow the parents to get an understanding of what it feels like to be nagged and the response it is likely to elicit which is the Rebellious Child ego state most likely.

    If the parents are informed but unwilling then there is not much you can do except talk with them and find their views about parenting and especially how they were parented. But they may not be willing to do such a thing as they might find it too personal.